Natalie Portman made an astonishing big-screen debut at the age of 12 in Luc Besson's thriller, Leon (1994). She has since been dubbed "the new Audrey Hepburn" by Harpers & Queen magazine and mixes roles in blockbuster films and smart indie flicks with considerable ease. Star Wars fans will forever remember her as Padme in George Lucas's prequels but her strong body of work includes Heat (1995), Mars Attacks! (1996), Garden State (2004) and Closer (2005), for which she was Oscar nominated. Here she reveals why her latest blockbuster, V For Vendetta, has more brains than brawn and what it was like going bald...
What was it that appealed to you about the role and why did you decide to take it?
It was very interesting for me to consider the mindset of someone who goes from being non-violent to being drawn towards using violence to express her political beliefs. I enjoyed the fact that it was a complicated journey that can be interpreted on many different levels - maybe she's being manipulated, maybe she's finding her true self, and just developing pragmatism over idealism. I appreciated the complicated view of what would make someone want to do this sort of thing.
How surprised were you by the political content in the script when you first got it?
When I received the script I was just so shocked by the fact that a big Hollywood action movie could actually have substance and something that's provocative. That it could actually make people feel very strong things and think strong things, whatever those various reactions would be. I thought: "This is crazy, I want to do this!" It's exactly the kind of entertainment I'm interested in making.
How liberating was it having to cut your hair off for the role?
Obviously for the character it's a very traumatic experience because it's a violence committed upon her. But for me, I got to choose to do it so it didn't feel like a violent thing committed against me. It was actually kind of wonderful to throw vanity away for a little bit. We're always expected to be preening ourselves, so it was a pretty nice opportunity not to have to think about that stuff for a while.
What was it like working with Hugo Weaving when he was wearing the mask all the time? Did it affect your performance?
I think it's kind of amazing because you're always wondering what's going on behind it. You're always thinking, are they laughing behind that? Are they smiling? Are they crying? Are they angry? Hugo's performance was so vocal and physically specific that it was a great help. It's not like working with blue screen, for instance, where you have to imagine the performance opposite you. He was giving a very full-bodied performance.
How did you go about getting your English accent? And was it daunting being surrounded by British actors?
I worked for a month before with a dialect coach and we ran through the material over and over again. Every morning during the filming we'd also warm up an hour before we started. But doing a different accent was exciting because it immediately puts you into a different character. Everyone was very supportive and didn't try to intervene too much.
You share many scenes in the film with Stephen Fry. How was he and did he behave?
[Laughs] He was really, really wonderful. He would always keep me laughing and happy between takes and interested too. He is clearly one of our sharpest minds and a great actor. I think his scenes are some of the most moving in the film. So it was a very lucky experience.
Did you get a chance to sample the London nightlife and culture while you were filming?
I don't really go out when I'm filming because I really can't keep it together if I do. I enjoy working here a lot, actually, because there's a lot of non-clubby stuff to do on weekends that can keep you interested and occupied when you're away from friends, family and home. This is the greatest city to see movies.
V For Vendetta is releases in UK cinemas on Friday 17th March 2006